A Travellerspoint blog

Final reflections

From Cartagena I got on a sailboat for a five day trip to Panama through the San Blas Islands. It was a great experience and one that I had been pursuing for a while. But at the end my body was weak and I was ready to come home. Happily now I am!

I was considering trying to come up with some grand conclusions in this final post, but that would be foolish. Instead I read through my original proposal and looked through some of my photos and past posts and came to the following reflections:

Obviously a key component of trip was the bicycle. I believed that traveling by bicycle in and through communities would allow me to connect to people in a different and unique way. Indeed it did. I met some of the most passionate and genuine people I've known through Critical Mass Beirut, perhaps my greatest outward achievement on this trip (in which achievement is pretty much prohibited by the grant). In Syria and Malawi my bicycle brought me in contact with many people I would never have seen, even through the windows of a car (like the folks in this photo). In Zimbabwe, South Africa and Brazil it carried to the top of mountains, across rivers and some of the most spectacular natural beauty I have been privileged to experienced.


The other guiding tenet was language. I sought countries where I had some previous experience in a common language or at least the desire to learn. In some places this proved essential. It would have been much less fulfilling to visit Syria without the elementary Arabic I learned and much more complicated to travel to a place like Cape Verde. But in other places, like Senegal, not speaking the language somehow made little difference in meeting people. That leads me to the conclusion that to some degree interacting and making connections with residents while traveling is more a factor of the character of people the the words we speak.

Out of school, out of the job market, yet to be married and with few responsibilities, curious or bored guys aged 17 to 22 were my constant guides and friends.

Some of my favorite places were former European colonial cities. But I wonder why. Is it the visual mix of old and and new? Is it because its easier to be in an European style habitat? Or is it because its interesting to see people with dark skin inhabiting spaces built to exclude them?


Sexual tourists are a plague! They are almost everywhere and have little shame. The fifty-year old American man with the twenty year old Mozambican girlfriend in Malawi. The group of dutch boys headed to Brazil because they heard the girls are easy. When people travel they seem to think all rules are off, men from the global North are proud to talk about the prostitutes with whom they do business. Of course tourists abuse their power differential in many ways. Through exchange rates which allows the opportunity to live like a king, over consuming the generosity which seems run deeper in non-western cultures or taking advantage of the awe of the white man and internalized oppression which still exists hundreds of years after colonization.

I was hesitant to apply for the the Bonderman Fellowship because its impossible to not play a role in this inequality and benefit from my financial, geographical and educational privileges. Not to mention the environmental impact of flying around the globe or the hundreds of bottles of water I went through. Perhaps my biggest regret was not bringing chlorine tablets. I can't claim to have avoided these inconsistencies, but I tried to show respect, engage in meaningful interactions, recognize boundaries and contribute to the local economy (as opposed to the tourist economy).


In this day and age it would be easy to consider fear an American tradition. But in fact fear it is a global phenomena responsible for a great deal of misunderstanding and a tremendous barrier to interaction. I was constantly trying to overcome the warnings of locals about the dangers of this place and that. I'm sure the threat was real in many cases, but it was just not worth the worry.

One lesson I've learned is to follow my ears. I followed my ears and ended up a Tae Kwon Doe lesson in rural Senegal. I followed my ears to the creation of pots and pans in Syria. I followed my ears to music, pouring out on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. One place you can always find music abroad is the Alliance Frances. France is equally proficient in its cultural diplomacy as its political diplomacy and in virtually every country I visited had a beautiful French cultural center offering expensive food and free musical performances. So follow your ears. Of course following your nose of course goes with out saying (see below).

Video credit to Samera

At twenty eight years old I am fortunate to have rich and diverse memories. But I heard once on NPR that the more you try to remember something the less accurate that memory becomes. I know that sometimes photographs have a tendency of replacing my memories. My hope was that this blog would aid my weak memory in holding on to this trip as much in the writing as in the review. Thank you for following along with me and a special thanks to everyone who cared and shared with me along the way; I'll even name names: My father and sister and aunt and uncle, Meena, Ruba and Nada in Lebanon and enroute. Samera and the Attahs in Syria. Maira, Abdul, Diallo, Duda, Catia, Abelito, Dona Luxa and the folks at O Tradicional and in Mozambique. Zonke in South Africa. Casey in Cabo Verde. Nana and Diabang in Senegal. Ordean and Oelito, Ceissa and Melissa in Brazil and Alicides, Jan, Keith an Roberto in Colombia. Thanks to those who shared their friends (Meena, Julia, Miyo) and who followed me called, wrote and posted along the way, it meant a lot.

Posted by dericvito 12:18 Comments (0)


A La Orden

semi-overcast 88 °F
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

Since I last wrote, I traveled to an island off the coast of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil to take advantage of a house all to my self, generously offered by a friend. With the intention of being alone I tried to practice arts typically lost on me, such as doing one thing at a time (eating without reading, cooking without listening), flossing, and shaving in front of a mirror. The place was kind of like that vacation spot in the movie, The Thomas Crown Affair except for no woman, paitings and nor private airplane. From Bahia I traveled north to Fortaleza to visit with my host family from my college study abroad experience, now a full seven years ago. It was pretty to easy to slip into the old routine and become a member of the family once again. Some things have improved, somethings have gotten worse and much has stayed the same.


About an hour into arriving in Bogota I was pretty sure all Colombian´s hated me for the space I was taking up with my bicycle bag on the tiny bus that services the airport. But actually everyone was quite kind. Bogota is a mix of Boulder Colorado, with its altitude, foothills and bicycle lanes, New York City (in perhaps the 1980´s) with its vibrant and gritty street life and maybe Seville, with its Spanish architecture and hot chocolate. I spent my days experimenting with the acclaimed transportation system. My first night I took a bicycle ride with a local bicycle guru and ex-Seattilite. He rode with his dog sometimes on a leash, sometimes under his arm, and sometime running down the middle of the avenue.


My diet in Bogota consisted of everything the street had to offer. That includes fresh potato and bannas chips, smoothies, arepas (like papusas) with chorizo, empanadas, fruit salad, etc. I know what you´re thinking, and your right; that´s exactly what happened, but it was well worth it. Bogota is a dynamic place. In the span of 30 minutes Friday night I was dancing at a BBQ, listening to one of many street comedians, soaked by the pouring rain, strolling through a street fair, listening to street rappers, caught between two political rallies and relaxing peacefully at the Bogota Philharmonic. In that time I consumed one beer, a slice of pizza, a Colombia version of a Mexican taco (not close), and a Churro.

Colombia is perhaps the easiest country in the world in which to make a phone call. Vendors are on every corner offering their cell phone for 5 to 10 cents a minute. However, I was chocking on my Portanhol and not making too many calls until I got to Cartagena. I think I´ve mentioned that traveling breeds distrust, and this almost prevented me from meeting Alberto (who wanted me to show him my guesthouse) and Alcides (who just wanted to talk). Alberto had recently left his wife and Alcides is so committed to his independence he sought a vasectomy at age 18. Now 22, an extremely intelligent law school school drop out with a aversion to work, Alcides spends his time at one of Cartagena´s several inviting plazas and hasn't wavered about not having kids. Both characters had the same message, freedom and independence is everything!

I took a side trip from Cartagena to Valledupar where a stayed at the home of a great guy name Jan and his family, my friend Keith from Seattle and Roberto a traveler from Argentina. Jan does a mean air accordion (one hand on your chest pressing buttons, the other extended, eyes closed chin pointed toward the sky). This is an important skill in the land of Vallenato, a sorta country like music featuring the accordion. We were all in town for the Vallenato festival which featured non-stop Vallenato from the plazas, stadium, taxis and every house with a sound system for five days straight.

Tomorrow I board a 30 foot sail boat for a five day trip to Panama. After a few days there I will board a plane destined for Miami. And, withstanding Alcides and Alberto´s message, by the end of the second week in May I will be a la ordean, ´´at your service´´.

Posted by dericvito 18:48 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)


Cracks with the force of the 1000 whips (thats a good thing)

all seasons in one day 35 °F
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

Traveling on the a trip like this is like going out every night of the week, every week of the month, for eight months. It means often not knowing where you will spend the night when you wake up. Needless to say that can get tiresome. So it was with great relief that I was picked up from the airport when I arrived in Sao Paulo by the father. Not my father unfortunately, but Father Ordean, a friend I met in Trinidad several years ago who was debating whether or not to move forward with his ordination as a priest.

Ordean is not your average priest, or not what I think of at least. He lifts weights, spikes his hair, enjoys going out for a beer. He even talks some trash. My time in Sao Paulo was spent shadowing Ordean. I can tell you its not a bad life He lives in a big house provided by the church, with internet and a woman who comes and cooks for him (and me) everyday. And it was just the bit of luxury I needed after running around in Senegal. From a professional perspective it was also intriguing to be a part of his life as he´s as much a community organizer as a religious leader, gathering and motivating the leadership in nine different small communities. Sunday´s are an day as the only thing open are bars and churchs. The Evangelical churchs sometimes have services in front of giant televisions. Ordean would give me shout outs at his mass.


I planned on coming to Brazil towards the end of my trip because I thought it would be a comfortable place to land after a taxing seven months. However, for some reason I was hesitant about going to a place I had been before. So arriving in arriving in Rio de Janeiro there was just one thing on my mind; music. It was good fortune that I landed in a hostel with two musicians who enjoyed fiddling the afternoons away. The owner sung love ballads while strumming delicately. And Luca, an Italian, played Brazilian popular classics as he does professionally back home. Luca quickly became a good friend, taking me to house parties in the artsy and historic hill neighborhood of Santa Teresa as well as music and dancing events around the city.

I landed a few days before the World Urban Forum, an event organized by the UN drawing 20,000 professionals and experts in urban issues from around the globe, a perfect opportunity to jump back into the fray of my field of study. Coincidence? I think so. But these days I cannot be sure. So my schedule for the first week in Rio was 9am-6pm at the forum and the World Urban Social Forum next door, organized by local activists, and pretty much 8am-3am with Luca somewhere listening and dancing to Samba, Forró, Choro, or Brasilian Funk.

I was also able to visit with a few old and new friends, but not all, and when it was time to leave I was definitely not ready to go. I became almost emotional at the thought of it and was consumed by Saudade. Rio de Janeiro is the most beautiful and enjoyable city I´ve been to, though not without its perils. I have more than one friend who has fled the city after being robbed in their home or kidnapped from their car and every resident has a story of getting mugged. Crime and fear of crime is something that has been present in every city since Maputo, Mozambique. In the first few days in a new place it can consume you, but after a while it is just a part of life.


Salvador has a reputation for crime as well, though less organized then Rio. Indeed is a bit rougher around the edges which is both a good and a bad thing. It is a city rich in culture, which has been well exploited by tourism entrepreneurs. Still you can´t beat the tasty acaraje with spice sandwiches on the street and Tuesday nights which fill the historic center with music for the public. After a couple days it was all a bit much, so I took off for the national park Chapada Diamantinha, a land of caves, pools and waterfalls.

It doesn´t seem to matter what I plan, my days on the bicycle are always filled with struggle and glory. This was the last place I planned to cycle extensively so I decided to push my bike to the limit. I crossed rivers with my bicycle on my shoulder, beneath my feet and on the front of a canoe and tore through sand, mud and rocky hillsides. I often arrived at my destination in the dark. I was really out on my own in the forest, sometimes I felt lost, but I was pretty confident I would make it out most of the time, until a tarantula (I think) crossed my path.


At this point my trip is a Baum Kooken -sp?- (German layer-cake) of experiences. Which sometimes overwhelm me with their diversity and intensity. I´m currently back in Salvador, taking in the music, theater and food of the city. I hope spend the next few days on an island doing nothing before heading north to Fortaleza to visit old friends and then on to Colombia on my way home!

I got pretty lazy taking pictures in Brazil just because its familiar, but I´ll lean on Flickr for photos of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador to compensate for what´s lacking in the gallery.

Posted by dericvito 07:30 Archived in Brazil Tagged bicycle Comments (0)


Biggie Biggie (Enjoy) Wow Wow (Yes)

View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

My initial impression landing in Dakar was that Senegal is more similar to India then southern Africa. The people are aggressive, friendly, cunning and proud. The hospitality rivals the 40 cups of tea I accepted in Syria. The food and the clothing are spicier and more colourful. The streets are jammed in Dakar and its dirty. Religion is everywhere, but mostly on mini-buses, alongside American flags.

I had two weeks in Senegal, the first with my friend Casey continuing from Cape Verde. We headed straight north and arrived on the former colonial capital island of St. Louis on the eve of Mohammed's (the prophet) birthday. A Frenchmen from our bus named Lula (which coincidentally? is a word for white man in Senegal) took us to his friend´s home. Our first meal was home cooked and a preview of what I was to be eating for the rest of my time here, fish (preferably with Theibu-Jen pictured below). Actually for the last month I've eaten fish pretty much everyday.I now probably prefer it to any other meat, although I've never ordered in any restaurant in the US. It was also citrus season so a steady supply of oranges and grapefruits kept my hydrated was Casey was not pushing water.


To celebrate the holiday, each mosque in the city set up a tent, which only filled up at midnight with people dressed in their finest gear. Some sang, danced and drummed, others watched. After strolling the island for a day we returned to Dakar, then on to the peaceful abode and lodge of Ras Umu on the island of Goree.

One of my favorite places from the my first week in Senegal was our lodging in Dakar. It was just a regular apartment building for seemingly middle class Senegalesse. There was a shared kitchen and bathrooms and TV space. Families and travelers all mixed together.

I arrived in the Casamance region for my second week in Senegal by boat. I slept very well in my private bunk in a cabin of eight. I love traveling by boat. It has all the isolation of an airplane with none of the crampness and foul air.

I had not intended on coming to French speaking Africa, but due to the overwhelming gregariousness of the people here it turned out not to be much of a barrier to meeting people. I used my TV French 'tres bien' as opposed to my father´s TV dinner French 'french fries' I now default to ´Merci´. I also used of course some English a bit of Arabic and a smattering of Spanish. With that I met tons of people while cycling between and over the waterways of the Casamance trying to avoid the rumored bandits and more real seperatist-government skermishes. At one point a solidier stepped from out of the woods from nowhere to see if I needed assistance with a flat tire. I give him a cookie and he diappeared just as quickly. Here are a few of the people I met:


Nana (with his wife) is a entrepreneur from Ghana. He left home, and his children (and wife?) to come to Senegal to get a visa for Europe. Failing in that regard he met his current wife and settled down in the crossroads town of Bignona. He started out "hustling" household goods door to door before making enough to build a barber shop which he now compliments with a mini-market and restaurant. He's working on securing food for a meat shop. He wants me to send him a shipping container of American waste to sell.

Fatur (in her restaurant) left here village with her mother to run a business in a slightly larger town with a large fishing industry and tourism. She's 24 years old, not married and spends her days 10am to 10pm at her small restaurant making and selling all the Senegalese classic dishes, from Theibu to Maffe. She´s open to proposals from a variety of men.

Aleiu (next to his friend in yellow) is a student in high school, with a few years left to go. He lives in the village of Albadar, where if you don´t have oranges trees you haven´t got anything.´´ Aleiu speaks good English and his friends speak little though they attend the same classes. His grandfather is the chief. Don´t forget to bid him farewell when you depart the village.

Boubka (in front of his family helps out at his family´s lodge, sweeping the sand. His father, his father´s two wives and a bunch of little ones live in a small house on the outskirts of town. They can´t afford locks on their doors and someone stole his bike. He speaks passionately against corruption though his face shows little expression when he talks.

I stumbled upon a workout of the pro-basketball team in Ziguinchor in the Casamance and got my feet on the court for the first time in six months. It felt pretty good and I held my own though I was impressed with the level of play. Everywhere in Senegal you see boys in training, mostly jogging through town or along the highway, sometimes with their team and sometimes alone. Soccer I assume is big business and a big opportunity here.

I am currently in Brazil. Resting in Sao Paulo why slowly making my way northwards towards home, which is very much on my mind as are all of you.

Posted by dericvito 14:26 Archived in Senegal Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

Cape Verde and Carnival

Once upon a time in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean

sunny 93 °F
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

I took my roundtrip from Southern Africa back to Europe landing in Porto, Portugal. Portugal is now officially my favorite country in Europe for two reasons: First, Both times I've been there the streets are filled with people in costume. During my last visit I was in the university town of Coimbra where students dress in Harry Potter like capes and parade around the streets during graduation. This time it was mostly children in halloween style getups for Carnival. Second, You can get a wholesome homestyle meal (soup, bread, entree, glass of wine, desert and coffee) for five Euro, almost anywhere. Porto was mostly a layover to get a visa for Cape Verde, but also because bike touring in Portugal was my original dream of a cycling trip.

When I arrived in Mindelo, Cape Verde to the shout of my friend Casey from a second story window the Carnival celebrations had already begun. I was later informed the party had been underway for a month. Cape Verde is a small island chain a couple hours flight off the coast of West Africa. It was occupied by the Portuguese, who apparently found it unihabited and subsquently populated it with Europeans and West Africans, the blend of which makes up the current population. The relative recentness and mash of traditions makes it a facinating place which has adopted aspects of both African and Portuguese culture, all of which show up during Carnival. Casey, a long-time Seattle friend, was my traveling partner in Cape Verde and part of Senegal. Together we mingled in the crowd on the streets and watched from our balcony as three days of parades passed by. First it was the children, who trotted along with their schools or community groups to the chat of, "hu hu hu, HA" something similar to the main dance number in the animated movie Madagascar if you've seen it. Then came the Monday evening parade, an elegant affair with an Africa theme. Finally Tuesday and main event competition arrived. Throughout there were street festivities and a constant flow of people watching people while circling the central plaza.


From Mindelo, the cultural heart of Cape Verde, we traveled to the island of Santo Antao. Cape Verdean islands are mostly dry and barren with a moon-like landscape that brighten up green with a hint of rain. Santo Antao is no exception, but the northern half gets some regular water on their steep hillsides, which thus give way to beautiful valleys. We spent a few days treking, breaking for backgammon games and a beer and watching the sunset in the small towns of this peaceful island. We returned to Mindelo for Saturday night to hear some traditional and modern Cape Verdean music, which did not disappoint, and even a quick visit to the local club where Carnvial never ended.


Out in the middle of the sea Cape Verdean life is comparitively good compared to most of West Africa, the pace is calm and people relax and enjoy themselves in their free. Our last stop was the capital city, Praia. In Praia the scent of modern African life was present, as was some very tasty friend fish, but nothing like our next stop, Dakar.

Posted by dericvito 01:20 Archived in Senegal Comments (0)

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